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I haven’t yet done an economic post – which, if I think about it, is quite strange since I love looking at economic numbers, metrics and indicators.
In general, very few reporters or columnists in Québec seem to be preoccupied with economy stories. This certainly isn’t unique of Québec (reporters & columnists everywhere would rather throw their opinions around regarding political or social issues – the “sensational” stuff on which they feel they can place their own stamp, and thus say they have the right opinion. I suppose that’s just human nature 😉 ).
But Québec does have a few good economic reporters – and it takes a special breed to truly understand and decipher hard-core, objective numbers (numbers don’t lie, after all).
Québec has a 24-hour economic, business & money-talk television station, Argent (owned by Québecor). The station’s website is http://argent.canoe.ca/, and playback videos of various programs can be viewed here: http://argent.canoe.ca/grille-horaire. Unfortunately it does not stream live video, but it does stream live audio (click in the upper right of its home page). Argent is sort of the Québec French equivalent of BNN, Bloomberg or CNBC. Argent supplements TVA’s economic commentaries and reports.
But apart from Argent and a few faceless reporters in newspapers or magazines like Les Affaires, generally speaking, high profile economic reporters and columnists are far and few between in Québec.
One notable exception is Gérald Fillion. I’m in business, and I can say he knows his stuff and he has my attention. Fillion is Radio-Canada’s (and their 24-hours news station RDI’s) star economic reporter.
The closest equivalent to Fillion in Anglophone Canada would likely be Amanda Lang (and just as most people across English Canada would recognize Amanda Lang, most people across Québec would recognize Gérald Fillion). Fillion, like Lang, has his own business & economics analysis television show, RDI économie, but his television appearances on Radio-Canada news programming are even more frequent than what Lang’s are on CBC.
Fillion is Radio-Canada/CBC’s lead Francophone reporter for all of Canada, but his reports and posts are very much focused on Québec, which again, brings home the concept that Québec media is very Québec-centric (I’ve mentioned this in “Quebec-centric” media tendency quite a number of times in past posts – it’s important to understand it upfront so you don’t get too frustrated as you rely on it while incorporating more and more Francophone culture into your own lives). I suppose a comparison I can make on this front would be if Amanda Lang or Don Pittis (also at CBC) made their reports 90% Ontario-specific (that wouldn’t go over so well with people in other provinces). But I’m also very much a realist, and Radio-Canada needs to attract large Québec viewership numbers to woo advertising dollars their way (Patrice Roy, of Radio-Canada has said so much himself) — so it probably wouldn’t pay for Fillion to do economic reports on matters in Nova Scotia or BC.
I do NOT blame Fillion at all on this front. He does a very good job in the context that he has been given to work within — and it is a very difficult context he has to work with, with very tight budgets and limited resources. He’s one of Canada’s best and brightest journalists, but many of these broader funding issues are out of his hands. He has a system he has to work within.
Something I find interesting, when I watch Fillion’s competition, Argent, I feel a good number of Argent’s reporting is right-right economic reporting, and you sometimes need a strong economic background to understand certain issues being discussed. But not so when watching Fillion. Sometimes I think his economic views are centre-centre, sometimes I get vibes he’s centre-right… and sometimes I get a sense he’s centre-left, and then other times he’ll approach issues from the extremes at both ends… in that sense I haven’t quite figured out his own true standpoints yet. But that’s perhaps a good thing because it means he’s trying to report economic issues to as wide an audience as possible (his target audience is the average person on the street in Québec, so he needs to simplify issues to garner broad appeal).
Fillion has an official blog on Radio-Canada’s website which speaks to issues of interest. He writes a new post every few days pertaining to an important topic being hotly discussed in the news. When he explains the issues, he does so from the standpoint that the viewer is encountering the matter for the very first time. Thus he takes special care to make very complex matters quite easy to understand, all in just a few short paragraphs.
When he interviews politicians, I’ve seen him take them to task. I’ve smiled a number of times when watching Fillion’s interviews, because certain politicians, who are managing the economy and who are supposed to have the answers, are sometimes at a severe loss for how to answer very basic economic questions posed by Fillion. In that sense, his interviews have given me much insight into who is and who is not a good politician. My guess is that Fillion probably scares the wits out of a good number of politicians (unless certain politicians actually know what they’re talking about – and some do… And that’s when they shine and get my respect!).
I can point you to a very recent interview which demonstrates this point. Fillion recently conducted an interview with Pierre Karl Péladeau (PKP). Throughout the interview, it was Fillion’s economic prowess which carried the discussion. PKP, regarded as the Québec business tycoon, was at a loss for coherent, straight answers when questioned hard by Fillion, and he simply wordsmithed (la langue de bois as we say in French), floundered, then sank. I couldn’t believe it – “surprise” would probably be the best word to describe the expression I must have had on my face. I was expecting an amazing performance from Péladeau, and in the end, an average Joe Blow from the street could have probably answered better. I’d say that out of all of 2014’s television interviews, I’d put this very interview as one of the years’ most face-losing interviews for any of Qubéc’s politicians – the link for the interview is HERE. My guess is that PKP will never want to be interviewed by Fillion again… but that lets you know who does and doesn’t know how to marry the world of economics and politics (if you want my opinion, if you can’t marry those two worlds, then you shouldn’t be in politics). As a side note… of course, Argent did not mention so much as two words about Péladeau’s less-than-stellar performance when put on the economic question hot-seat by Fillion… but then again, Péladeau owns Argent, so who in their right mind at Argent would criticize him (PKP will return one day, after all).
Below are links for Fillion’s economic posts over the past three months on Radio-Canada’s website. Take a look at the titles – they give you an idea of what economic issues are of interest to Québec’s public. Because he will cover issues specific to Québec’s social programs, some issues would be less of an interest to an Albertan or Ontarian (Anglophone or Francophone). However, there are still similarities with matters of importance to all Canadians (lots of coverage of resource issues and government finances for example), but with a slightly different twist in Québec.
If your French is not sufficient to read them with ease, may I suggest you use Google Translate (Google’s French-to-English translations are instant and generally pretty good) https://translate.google.com/
- Péréquation : un café par 2 semaines (Equalization : A coffee every two weeks)
- La fin du gaz de schiste? (The End of Shale Gas?)
- Les maisons, le pétrole et le PIB (Houses, Oil, and GDP)
- La réalité sur les surplus (The Low-Down on [Electricity] Surpluses)
- Consommez-vous trop? (Are you Purchasing Too Much?)
- 5,8 milliards, un déficit inventé? ($5.8 Billion – Is this Deficit Invented?)
- Et l’emploi, Monsieur Leitao? (And what About Employment, Mr. Leitao, Minister of Finance?)
- Pétrole : gagnants et perdants (Oil, the Winners and Losers)
- Garderies : combien allez-vous payer? (Daycare : How much are you going to be paying?)
- Emballage, traficotage et gaspillage (Packaging, Tampering and Waste)
- Et si on « travaillait » sur les revenus? (And if the [Québec government] looked at things from a revenue standpoint?)
- L’effet des garderies et les femmes (Women and the Effect of [Government Paid] Childcare)
- Après la contribution santé, la contribution garderie! (After Supplementary Health Care Premiums, Supplementary Day Care Premiums!)
- Le coeur du Plan Nord s’effondre (The Melting heart of « Plan North »)
- Il se passe quelque chose à Montréal! (Something is stirring in Montréal)
- Oui, il y a de la marge de manoeuvre… (Yes, there is wiggle-room…)
- L’exceptionnelle efficacité budgétaire de Stephen Harper (Stephen Harper’s exceptionnel budgeting efficiency)
- Un plan de relance pour l’économie? (An Economic Stimulus Plan?)
- Hausse de taxation pour les familles? (Tax Increase for Families?)
- La classe moyenne ne se meurt pas (The Middle Class is not Dying)
- Fractionnement : qui en profite? (Revenue Fractioning: who benefits?)
- Produire plus, consommer moins? (Produce more [Oil], and Consume Less?)
- Et si on reportait le déficit zéro? (What if we delayed eliminating the deficit?)
- Taxe carbone et prix de l’essence (Carbon Taxes and the Price of Gas)
- La social-démocratie en 2014 (Social Democracy in 2014)
- Pétrole : le rôle de l’Arabie saoudite (Oil, Saudi Arabia’s Role)
- Orage boursier en vue? (Is a « Stock Storm » coming?)
- Le pouvoir des médias sociaux (The Power of Social Media)
- Une réforme à la scandinave? (And if we had a Scandanavian-Style Reform?)
- On dramatise, oui ou non? (Are we dramatizing things, Yes or No? – an interview with Pierre Karl Péladeau)
- Prix de l’essence : l’impact du dollar! (The Price of Gas : The Impact on the Dollar!)
Regardless of where you are in Canada, see if you can catch Gérald Fillion on RDI every Monday to Friday at 6:30pm and 10:00pm. You can also stream RDI Economie online at the following link: http://ici.radio-canada.ca/economie/ (far left, scroll down half way, and click “RDI Économie”).
A bit of issue-related commentary on my part:
In the above post, I mentioned that there tends to be very little economic reporting on matters outside of Québec (let alone within Québec. Because RDI and Radio-Canada could be considered one of the very few sources to which Francophones outside Québec can turn to for their economic news, it makes it so I really feel for Francophones in as diverse as places as Nova Scotia and BC 😦 .
To Francophones around Canada, I say this; I know the last thing you want to watch is a “headline story” about the economic impact a budget will have on the Conservatoire de musique in Trois-Rivières (the bit about the “system” I just spoke about above). Honestly, if you are Francophone or Francophile in a place like Kelowna, B.C., depending heavily on our public broadcaster Radio-Canada, and you want to catch up with the economic news in French, but you see this latter Trois-Rivières Conservatoire de musique headline as the day’s main economic news article, I can fully understand why you’d want to jump into Lake Okanagan! (believe me, the thought has crossed my mind many times in the past myself – it’s a case where Québec poorly understands the rest of Canada, just as unilingual aspects of the rest of Canada often poorly understand Québec – it goes in both directions)…
So I’ll say it once again… This is one of the reasons why I have not been so hot-hot on budgetary cuts to Radio-Canada (RC’s headquarters in Montréal calls the shots for RC’s French-language reporting everywhere else in Canada). RC’s regional French news outside Québec has almost NO reporters who are adequately informed on local or regional economic issues. With the exception of the odd francophone hors Québec (local Francophone), most regional French language reporters are imported into our regions from Québec rather than hired locally, they haven’t been trained locally, and they haven’t grown up in the local economic climate — and that makes a huge difference between good and bad local reporting. THAT, my friends, in part is what you call “The Two Solitudes”. It’s sometimes as frustrating as hell – and needlessly so – but that’s part of the reason why I’m writing this blog. (See, the blog is slowly starting to come together, bit-by-tiny-bit).
What type of news falls victim of this apparent “News wall” across the linguistic lines?:
I’ll give you an example of what I mean… British Columbia’s brand new “Site C Clean Energy Project” (a MASSIVE planned hydro-electric dam project on the Peace River in Northeast British Columbia) was approved earlier this week by the B.C. provincial government in Victoria. It will be breaking numerous world records and will cost almost $10 billion dollars (making it one of the most expensive infrastructure projects in the the world). Work will start soon. By any North American standards, this is a major economic news story. Québec also is a major hydro-electric powerhouse on the world stage, but I’m not sure any single dam in Québec has ever cost as much as what this massive dam in British Columbia will cost. This is big news for Canada as a whole, and it should be huge news for Québec because BC hydro, with all of its projects, is set to become the new “Hydro Québec”. Because both companies are located physically far apart from each other, they are not going to be in competition with each other – and the opportunities for them to work together to do amazing things on the world stage is tremendous, How much coverage was it given to this story in Québec? ZERO. How much coverage was it given by francophone reporters based in the local French studios in Vancouver? “5 minutes and 20 seconds”, and then after that… zero… nothing since. If you want to see the only French language news that came out on this project, you can view it online at “Le Téléjournal Colombie-Britannique” website by clicking here: http://www.radio-canada.ca/widgets/mediaconsole/medianet/7217064. The report starts at 0:50 seconds mark, and runs until the 6:10 minutes mark.
This new “Site C clean energy” hydroelectric project is going to help propulse Canada much further onto the world energy stage in a new way, and it will benefit everyone and every province in Canada through equalization rebalancing, research, company contracts, cheaper manufacturing costs, less dependence on oil, etc. But yet it has zero coverage in the Francophone media. And frankly, even here in Ontario, there’s hardly any talk of it in Toronto-centric Anglophone media. (Arrrr… Frustration!).
You read my last post on Québec’s views towards oil pipelines and a desire for things to progress towards clean or carbon-neutral energy, not only in Québec, but elsewhere in Canada also. This dam serves just that purpose, right on Alberta’s border, not far from the oil sands. But again, there’s no coverage in francophone media. Need I say anything more?
Likewise, ask an anglophone what Manic-5 in Québec is (I visited it once – it’s a huge dam of massive importance to Québec and Canada, inland from Québec’s North Shore, North of Baie-Comeau), and their eyes will also completely glaze over too (but at least most people know The James Bay projects and they’re incorporated into out high school history curriculums across Canada). Now, If I were to ask someone in the Brazilian state of Paríba if they had ever heard of the Itaipu Dam on the other side of Brazil, (also one of the largest dams in the world just like these two Canadian dam projects I just cited), it would be absolutely inconceivable to hear a Brazilian say “no”.
I know it’s a complex situation with many different factors. But I do see more and more signs that things are getting better – there is more East-West communication and exchange of ideas than ever before (the internet can be credited with much of this change)… but there still is lots of work to do.
Possible solution: It’s actually quite simple. My message to all reporters, Anglophone and Francophone, don’t be afraid to report on news events beyond a 500, 1000 or 3000km radius. If you give people the news, they will want to know more – and ratings will follow.
People are curious, and they generally want to know more… it’s human nature – and fortunately the information and internet age can help facilitate this. I can give you some very recent examples of how people can be curious about things beyond their immediate vicinity – if they are given the opportunity to be curious. I recently encountered this human-nature sense of curiosity earlier this very week:
A few days ago, when I was in Québec city, I took the opportunity to do some runs to various shopping malls for last minute Christmas shopping; from Les Galleries de la capitale in the North to Place Laurier and Place Ste-Foy West of downtown. I like to chat with people, and a number of people heard me speak with a bit of a different French accent than the local Québec City accent. That lead to questions about where I was from. When I said Alberta, questions and conversations on all sorts of subjects came up. One thing I’ve always thought was interesting is that when a stranger finds out you’re from a very far away place, they tend to open up and take the initiative to talk to you about things they would NEVER talk about to their neighbours. I liken it to a Brit visiting Canada — there are Canadians who would invariably bring up the Royal Family when conversing with a Brit, but those same Canadians would never ever talk about the royal family with their neighbours or even family members. It’s quite an interesting experience to see what people want to talk about, on their own initiative, when I’m in “non-Montréal or non-Outaouais/Gatineau” regions of Québec, and they find out I’m from Alberta (especially when they find that not only am I from Alberta, but that I grew up in large part in French, which kind of makes me part Francophone — at least it often feels that way). Faced with this, people’s guards and walls towards me automatically come down, and people open up about economics, politics (even telling me out of the blue how they vote – it floors me every time this happens, because some people say they have never even told their children how they vote), they ask me stuff about Alberta, they say they’d like to visit the West, they tell me about stuff going on in their lives, about their spouses jobs, etc, etc, … it’s a very very interesting psychological phenomenon that occurs. And usually I just listen… People in general, regardless of where they’re from, feel they want to be heard, and listening is the biggest compliment and sign of respect you can pay someone (it’s also the best way to learn what matters to others). The more you listen, the more people tell you.
A couple of examples: I was in a clothing store in Place Laurier, and the middle-aged lady who was helping me find clothes just wanted to stand there and chat… Apparently, being a “Franco-Albertan” was quite a “novelty” in her eyes, and she told me about everything going on in her life. She asked a gazillion questions, wanting to know if people in Alberta were going through the same things (prices of groceries, gas prices, struggles paying the kids tuition fees, difficulties in affording housing, the job market, even food and the types of cars which sell the most – you name it, she wanted to know about it).
In Les Galleries mall, across town, it was a similar thing. I was standing in line at Target, the cashier asked how I was, I answered “I’m pretty good, but trying to make a mad dash to get all my Christmas shopping done”. She heard my different accent and said “You’re not from here, are you?” I said no. She asked where I was from and I told her to guess… “Gaspésie? Outaouiais? J’chu pas sur, c’est pas clair…” I told her I’m from Alberta, and it just about bowled her over. I was the only one in the cashiers line… and again, out came the questions, and she wanted to talk about everything from A to Z. After after a few minutes, she asked me how people in Alberta vote (boy, how do go down that road when you’re standing at a check-out counter??)… but it’s just to say that people are curious, and they do want to know about things that matter to them… and judging from the questions I get, I guess Alberta matters.
Same thing happened at a Tims on Industrial Road in Val Belaire, on the North edge of Québec City. Here’s what happened:
It’s an area with lots of new suburb home construction. I sat at one end of a bar-like table in a Tims restaurant, and 3 construction workers were at the other end, hard-hats n’all. I forget what started the conversation, but we were chatting, and again (accent thing) I was asked where I was from. One guy in the group had some pretty hard views about Alberta (he was a pretty rough guy), but it was the first time in his life he ever met someone from Alberta (and quite possibly the first time he ever met an Anglophone or someone from outside Québec), let alone having the opportunity to talk with an Albertan in French. And boy, he wanted to let me know everything he thought. He actually thought the Reform Party sent Harper to Ottawa to take Alberta out of Canada and that Harper’s strategy was to intentionally p***-off Québec so he could achieve Alberta independence. This guy unfortunately saw a terribly inaccurate, (unrepresentative), and dare I say politically motivated anti-Alberta documentary entitled Les États-déunis du Canada by Guylaine Maroist. (I’ve seen it myself and it’s awful in how it twists reality in an unrepresentative way. It’s a documentary that purports that Anglophones all over Canada hate Canada and each province has an activist separatist movement to dissolve the country). As soon as this guy mentioned Harper being “sent” to Ottawa to separate Alberta from Canada and sock it to Québec, I knew exactly where he was going with this and it was more than obvious to me that he saw this documentary, even before he told me he saw it. (This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this same story… I feel Maroist has done damage with this inaccurate documentary, and she continues to garner media attention through more recent documentaries – but that’s a whole other subject). He also heard some of the anti-equalization rhetoric Daniel Smith (formerly of the Wild Rose Party) was spewing during the last Alberta election (Smith’s political-scoring remarks were picked up by a good number of sovereignist columnists, amplified and sensationalized in Québec with the goal of scoring political points at home). This guy had developed a number of views I believed were inaccurate or incomplete, amongst which was his focus on “what’s it it for me in Québec” rather than a “what’s in it for us in Canada” from an economic and social standpoint. He was quite sovereignist directly because of all of the above. He had a few rationals: one was that if Alberta wanted to sock it to Québec, pick up and leave, then so should Québec sock it to Alberta and do the same thing. Another was that anytime another province economically benefitted more than Québec from an economic program, then that was bad for Québec (instead of viewing it as being good for all of us, because each province garners its own benefits, which are then redistributed on many government and non-government levels so we all can live an equaled out lifestyle. My argument is that this is of benefit to all of us as we or our friends and relatives move around the country to seek new opportunities, or as we expand our business and breadth of our lives… just as, in a scaled down comparison, certain regions of Québec may benefit more than others from certain programs or expertise. Québec has numerous “scaled-down” versions of exactly what I’m talking about – such as Gaspésie getting a cement factory subsidized by Sherbrooke tax payers, or a subsidized pharmaceutical R&D company in Terrebonne being funded in part by Alma taxpayers so it can attract world-class researchers. Canada simply works of a much larger scale, with much larger opportunities in that sense).
His two fellow construction workers weren’t sure what to make of the whole thing. None of these three guys were very old (in their 30’s, around my age), but they had just never been outside their own Québec City region (two had visited Montréal a couple of times when they were younger, and they had been to some nearby local regions in Québec, but that’s it). So their views of the real deal is completely dependent on what others tell them and what they hear in the media and from opinion-makers (such as the political documentary mentioned above). I’m not one to look for confrontations, or to say that My views are the only correct views, but I’m not one to let inaccuracies slide by if I think the person I’m speaking with would be receptive to hearing me out. So we chatted… a lot. The four of us basically ended up sitting there and having lunch together (one of the guys even trotted off unexpectedly to buy me another coffee half way though our lunch – so I guess they wanted to keep me around to talk more). We talked about a host of things… but I can tell you that the views those three guys walked away with were quite different than the views they had when they walked into that Tims. The one guy who initially was pretty harsh, in the end, actually said he’d really like to check things out elsewhere in the country because there seemed to be a lot of things and perspectives he was unaware of. I don’t thik it was a world-changing conversation, but It was a good chat, and it’s more than likely that guy’s views are not the same as they used to be.
It’s almost like there’s no risk for people to talk to a stranger from Alberta who they’ll never see again. Their guard comes down even further when they know that there’s zero language barrier. People let it all out, and they feel they’re in a comfort zone as if talking with “one of their own” (in that sense, I am kind of one of their own – at least I feel I am).
On this last trip, I was actually quite surprised how much people actually did know about things happening in Alberta and elsewhere in the country, even if it was in a very macro and general sense. I remember, during my university years when I took courses at Université Laval some 20 years ago, people were not so well informed. So progress is being made — slowly. We’re heading in the right direction.
And all of this goes in reverse too. I’ve traveled around different parts of Anglophone Canada with Francophone friends from Québec, and my francophone friends have often been bombarded with lots of questions from unilingual Anglophones (particularly in Western Canada). Sometimes (actually many times) the questions are along the lines as those I described above. It’s quite natural, and it kind of makes me smile. In this sense, people are not very different at heart. I usually just stay quiet, and let my Francophone friends take the questions, answer as best they can, and give their own perspective on things. It’s good to see how curious people can be — it’s healthy, and I wish we had a lot more of this type of interaction. It’s truly very unfortunate the country is just so big, which physically prevents a lot of East-West communication and mixing. But I see it as a positive rather than a negative. The way I view it is we pretty much own a huge continent, and it’s all ours to enjoy and explore any way and any time we want. It’s so big that it offers endless possibilities – so why not look at it as a good thing? And with the internet, we can really begin to explore it in detail (something we couldn’t do before). I really think this is why I see Anglophones taking much more personal interest now in Francophone Canada (certainly more now than at any time in the past 15 or 20 years). The internet has made Canada much smaller for Anglophone Canadians, and hundreds of thousands of parents across Canada want their kids to become bilingual (hence, why there are huge waiting lists, in every single province, to enroll their children in French Immersion schools). I think it’s great that people are curious about each other and are taking a genuine interest across linguistic lines. It’s bound to make the country a much smaller place (and my guess is you’re one of those people — otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this blog 🙂 ).
In the end, Canada’s Anglophones are amazingly cool people, and Canada’s Francophones are amazingly cool people. We’re doing incredible things together as a country – things many other countries around the world could only dream of doing. It’s the most disconcerting thing to think that a lack of East-West communication, a language barrier, poor education on certain issues, petty politics, and now media politics (with the arrival of the PKP/Snyder team on the scene) can actually damage things. But debate is healthy I suppose, if everyone engages in it with an open mind. We owe it to ourselves to keep our participation, communication and interest in our country moving forward. In part, that’s what this blog is for.
Anyways, I’m at the airport… I have a rather long 4.5 hour flight to Edmonton in a few minutes. Am on my way to Alberta and Saskatchewan for Christmas and New Years. I’ll still try to keep up with my posts over the holidays, but there might be a bit of a delay (I have lots of holiday cheer to take in). But I’ll see you again soon !